"It's not just work, it's an Adventure! There are 250,000 U.S. service members stationed overseas. What did the military do to assist them as they entered a foreign land and what can corporate America learn from it?"
Going Global? With over 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power outside of the United States, more and more U.S. companies are jumping on the bandwagon.The reality of opening or moving a business to another country is that it can be a daunting task.
Language barriers, cultural nuances, government regulations, politics and more all contribute to the challenge of going global. Some American companies who overseas efforts have gone down in flames because they neglected some of these issues include Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and DaimlerChrysler.Although they recovered, it was not without frustration, missed opportunities, and billions in sales.How can your organization avoid some of these pitfalls? A good place to start is by examining how you handle your most valuable assets when going global - your people.
The U.S. military began setting up permanent bases in foreign countries in 1903 when the first overseas base was established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. By 2010, there were 662 U.S. military bases in 38 foreign countries. These bases range in size from over 50,000 Americans to less than ten. Countless service members and their families have made the move to a new country and many lessons were learned throughout the decades. This article will examine some of those “lessons learned” to see if there are pitfalls or best practices U.S. businesses desiring to make the move overseas can learn from.
Who Should Go?
Living and working in a foreign country can be an exciting prospect for anyone. However, through experience, the military has discovered even if someone wants to take an overseas assignment not everyone is cut out for it. As a preventive measure, the Navy, like the other services, has developed a detailed screening process which service members and their families must complete prior to heading out for that new adventure. First the service member must be qualified to perform the work. Beyond that, before an overseas assignment is finalized, the service member is screened for an acceptable level of physical fitness, performance, discipline issues, financial stability, individual and family characteristics, and drug and alcohol issues. If someone is taking their family, those family members must also be considered. Family members are screened to ensure no special medical, dental, community or educational requirements exist which may not be available at the duty station and could place undue stress on a service member and their family. The military has found when mismatches like these occur there can be significant costs to both the organization and the family. Consequences include increased absences from work, poor quality of life, unplanned expenditures, and service members and their families being sent home before the end of their tour.
Making a Smooth Move
Once screening is passed, it is time to get ready for the actual move. Moving to a foreign country can be a daunting experience for anyone but especially if a company is just establishing a presence there. Are visas required, how do personal belongings/furnishings get there, what parts of the city are not safe to live in, are there English speaking schools, what is the cost of living, is temporary housing available and where, what medical facilities are available – the answers to these questions and more should be provided to any employees before they leave. In this regard, the U.S. Navy tries to ensure success for service members and families moving overseas is by providing an Overseas Transfer Workshops for family members 12 years old and above. During the workshop information is provided on moving household goods and cars, financial planning, travel arrangements, legal documents which should be completed or hand carried vice shipped, pet quarantine requirements, country information, passports, and more. How-to guides and checklists are provided to facilitate the many details which must be handled for the move. Personal security and culture shock are also discussed during the workshop. Welcome aboard packages are provided to service members and families which include information about the new country such as places to visit, monetary exchanges, shopping, transportation options, schools, important phone numbers, and where to find help if needed.
Straight from the Source
Since moving to a new country and culture can be overwhelming, the U.S. military has developed sponsor programs which allow service members to hear the “real deal” from someone who is already there. If there is an established presence in a country, service members are assigned a sponsor to help them before and upon their arrival at the duty station. Sponsors contact the service member and guide them through the move process, and help orientate them to the new location and culture. Additionally, large foreign duty stations have Family Service Centers to assist service members and their families. Depending on their size, they can provide assistance in job searches for a spouse and information on churches and religious services, childcare, continued education, afterschool care, volunteer opportunities, social activities, medical and dental facilities, and more. Some duty stations with families also provide sponsor programs for children from seven to eighteen who are matched by age, gender, hobbies, etc. This has been found helpful in reducing anxiety for children moving to a new country and culture.
Not understanding the culture of a country different from the United States almost guarantees failure. The military learned this during the Vietnam War when the U.S. tried fighting a conventional war. The communist insurgents fought the only way they knew how using guerilla warfare. As the Americans approached, they withdrew and waited for them to pass by. This cultural misunderstanding contributed to lengthening an already costly war in money and lives. On a more tactical level, after the U.S. Army went into the Middle East, they discovered the OK sign was considered an obscenity to Afghans and the thumbs-up sign was offensive to Egyptians. Obviously, these are some lessons corporate America would rather learn from others rather than discover personally!
Like the other services, today the U.S. Army takes culture issues seriously. The Army wants their soldiers to possess a cross-cultural competency to include cultural learning and cultural agility. Experts have reported cultural learning enables people to quickly gain an understanding of the socio-cultural context of operations and cultural agility provides the ability to respond effectively in situations of cultural diversity. The Army Learning Concept for 2015 calls for a blended approach of social and contextual learning with guided traditional learning to develop cross-cultural competencies through continuous learning over a soldier’s career. Currently, before a soldier deploys to a specific area they are provided what has been called “cultural training on steroids” which includes anthropology, language, heritage, history, and cultural no-nos. The goal is for the soldiers to be able to “form relationships, build trust, communicate, and collaborate with people of greatly different backgrounds.”
As the military has learned, cross-cultural training and education can be invaluable to corporate personnel sent overseas to work and yet many organizations fail to provide it. Sometimes companies are unaware of available resources or feel it is not necessary especially when dealing with another Western culture or English speaking country. Other times, employees feel they don’t need it or with all the pressures of moving overseas, this training falls off their plate. The U.S. State Department has long recognized the importance of cross-cultural training and encourages corporations going overseas to take advantage of it by listing reputable sources of non-governmental training on their website. Additionally, the State Department website has detailed information on embassies, country profiles, political issues, security issues, economics, transnational issues, and more. Other helpful websites available on cultural issues include the Central Intelligence Agency’s World FactBook and the Hofstede Centre’s National Culture Dimensions. All information on these websites can be sorted by country and in the case of the Hofstede website two countries cultural dimensions can be compared and contrasted.
How do you say…?
Although English is considered the universal language of business, there are times when not speaking a language can become a definite disadvantage. Within the military, commanders leading troops overseas have suggested a soldier’s ability to speak the local language is just as important as his skills with a rifle. Learning a new culture becomes much easier when the local language is understood. However, because learning a new language such as Pasto or Dari is difficult and there are few native speakers in the military, commanders have experienced much frustration. To combat this, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) offers military members over two dozen languages in a resident program and through immersion programs. Included in the language training are cultural considerations for the each country. Similar to the CIA and Hofstede websites, DLIFLC provides numerous language and cultural resources on their website which can be sorted by country and do not require any special access. Included are helpful briefings, tutorials, pamphlets, and “cheat sheets” on language survival kits, language pronunciation, cultural orientations, myths and folklores, country perspectives, and more. 
When expanding into other nations, corporate leaders should plan what language skills are needed at each level in order to communicate effectively with the local workforce. Given the time it takes to learn a new language or find native speakers, these requirements need to be identified early. Fortunately today there are many resources, such as Rosetta Stone, in addition to those already highlighted to help businesses going overseas.
Lessons Learned from the World’s Mightiest Military
Through the decades, the U.S. military has uncovered several keys lessons which today’s leaders can use to their advantage when going global:
- The costs of sending the wrong person or family member overseas can be enormous both to the organization and the people involved. In order to increase the chances of success, employees and, to some extent, their family members should go through a review or screening process to ensure there are no existing circumstances which could prove problematic in a foreign setting.
- The actual process of moving overseas is complicated in the best circumstances. Providing employees with detailed “how-to” information or guides on getting passports or visas, making travel arrangements, moving household goods, finding lodging and transportation, and such will lessen delays, frustrations, and unnecessary costs. Providing this information through workshops or seminars will allow questions to be answered on the spot and allow for sharing other helpful tips.
- Establishing a sponsor program where employees are matched with another employee already in the foreign country can facilitate a smoother transition. Having a sponsor to bounce questions off can help employees avoid false starts and ease apprehensions.
- Avoiding culture shock is another key to a smooth transition. This is done by preparing employees and their families for the cultural differences they will encounter instead of them having to learn it the hard way. Providing employees with formal cultural training and awareness on the country they are heading to can facilitate assimilation and help avoid awkward situations.
- Addressing language issues early on can provide employees with an advantage upon arrival and prevent unnecessary misunderstandings. Although most people cannot quickly learn a new language, providing them with key phrases and learning resources will make the transition easier.
- Companies and corporations should also take advantage of the wealth of information on almost every country in the world which is available on the internet via the websites identified within this article and elsewhere.
Going global can be an exciting time for a company or corporation, but it can also be fraught with difficulties and pitfalls. The U.S. Armed Forces has over 100 years of experience in sending people into foreign lands and establishing a presence there. Through the years, the military has noted their mistakes and what things facilitated a smooth move overseas for service members. Those things which worked were formalized into programs and policies which now guide overseas transfers. Screening service members and their families and providing them with information on what they need to accomplish before they go, how to get there, and what they will find there saves time, money, and frustrations for both the service member and the organization. Each company or corporation which enters the global market will have issues to address which are specific to their industry. However, when moving Americans overseas, many of the issues are universal to any organization. Corporate leaders going global would do well to look to the military to avoid some of the landmines discussed herein. After all, this is not the first time the military has stepped on landmines, it would be a shame if no one learned from their sacrifice!
Preparing the Battlefield!
These resources provide information on culture, language tips, myths and folklore, politics, economics, security concerns, country perspectives, and more.
About the Author
Captain Jeanne McDonnell (ret.) served on active duty for over 25 years. Assignments included command of Naval Support Activity Norfolk and Transient Personnel Unit Norfolk, and service on the Joint Staff, the Navy Staff, Commander Surface Warfare Atlantic Staff, and Joint Forces Staff College. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Strategic Leadership at Regent University.
*Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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Avoiding Landmines: What Corporate America Can Learn From the Military When Taking Their Most Valuable Assets Overseas
"It's not just work, it's an Adventure! There are 250,000 U.S. service members stationed overseas. What did the military do to assist them as they entered a foreign land and what can corporate America learn from it?" Going Global? With over 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power outside of the United States, more and more U.S. companies areJeanne M. McDonnell Articles
If you monitored the United States’ presidential election process or the corporate woes of Nokia and Research in Motion as they try to recover what were formerly massive stakes in the cellular phone market, then you realize that worthwhile change, even when planned, is neither simple nor easy; it is complex and difficult. Organizations struggling most with change, therefore, seem to be the ones that also struggle most with innovative thinking. Successful organizational changes are possible – just not as clear-cut and idealistic as some management books and journal articles would lead you to believe. Many readers can likely recall an encounter with an Organizational Development (OD) consultant ending with a forgotten, polished report. Separated by time and distance from the change implementation process, the projects appeared clean and clear recipes for new life. But, just as recipes are ineffective if the proper ingredients are not gathered in the correct measurements, at the right time, and combined by the proper tools, so change-management plans are also ineffective if misdirected and misapplied.
Organizational leaders, with or without the aid of consultants, are responsible for these spectacular changes or disasters. C-suite leaders are routinely hired and fired with the understanding that they will bring the “magic” that makes change work, resulting in innovation, efficiency, increased brand value and earnings, reduced turnover, and improved talent acquisition. Surely, useful methods for successful change exist and are routinely highlighted by change-management experts. Still, there are also obstacles that hinder change management – some errors of commission, others of omission, and they primarily affect individuals on the receiving end of leaders’ visions for change. Among these obstacles, any which makes or breaks follower buy-in is nonnegotiable. It must be addressed well. When unaccounted for, these organizational booby-traps trip up unaware interventionists and halt progress – to the often repeated rate of 70% failure.
Two coalescing perspectives of the change process have dominated OD: Kurt Lewin’s (1890-1947) three-step approach and, more recently, Chris Argyris’ (1923-) theory of intervention and double-loop learning. For Lewin, change processes consisted of:
1) unfreezing the present condition,
2) changing to a new condition as favorable affections replace affections for the old condition, and
3) refreezing the process by which the new condition becomes established.
Essentially, the need for change is realized, desired, and then consistently pursued after a semblance of acceptance for the change is obtained. Argyris’ theory built upon Lewin’s model by introducing discussion about persistent evaluation. In short, he promoted what is called systems thinking, which examines the foundational issues for why problems arise, promoting change at that level. For instance, in collecting performance data, this would mean not only examining the collected data, but it would also entail critiquing the data collection process i.e. Were the correct data collected and the means of collection proper? The point is that alleviating symptoms is not a long-term strategy for successful OD. Leaders need to address root causes – the metaphorical infection causing the sore throat. Effective leaders manage these change efforts like skirmishes comprising a war campaign. For each, they rally their troops’ morale, negotiate resources and leverage competencies, study the benefits and drawbacks of the environment, and assess costs. Such accounting is needed every step of the way because, if not recognized as an opportunity to be well-prepared, each aspect may become a potential obstacle for followers’ change readiness.
The approach most leaders take, resulting in that dismal 30% success rate, is one of firefighting. They see change as inviting resistance, and so they prepare for resistance and learn to “put out fires” along the way. Their fact-pattern is:
Followers naturally react to change, or the idea of change. It is often a matter of perceived control. Some feel they lose while others feel they can only benefit from the change. Successfully timing change events, therefore, requires leaders to monitor followers’ motivations and evidence of growing dissatisfaction with the present situation and greater affinity for the proposed change (willingness to complete additional work, spend extra time onsite, work jointly in cross-functional teams, etc.). These signs indicate readiness for change. Unilateral action should replace politicking when the coalition in favor of change is strong and vocal.
Leaders do not have to settle for such adversarial change-management scenarios. Those projects will exhaust all factions and exacerbate organizational tensions. Instead, leaders ought to seek improvement in organizational relationships throughout the change-management process. These events bring leader-follower tensions and underlying assumptions to the surface, and so they are prime opportunities to address misalignments and strengthen understanding of the organization’s unifying mission while improving operations. The following list of ingredients for effective change management will increase the likelihood of change “sticking” and the organization improving.
1. Organization assessment
Even novice organizations have endured change efforts, and so leaders can look to history for the strengths and weaknesses evidenced in past events, considering: Are the parties to change the same? What cultural barriers remain or have arisen since? Is this change bigger or smaller in scope than past changes? Is this change necessary? How likely will we survive this change? Are there alternatives?
2. Developed vision
Without guidance, change efforts fail. Leaders are responsible for developing the vision for what change will bring – incorporating the needs and expectations of followers and answering and overcoming their concerns. Visions need to clearly describe the organization’s problem as well as inspire followers in counting the cost of change, concluding what is to come is better and more desirable that what is at hand. Fear is another strong motivator; and, when used honorably, powerful visions of negative consequences for failing to change provide additional motivation.
3. Severed ties
In his seminal work, Reflections on the Revolution in France, British statesman Edmund Burke (1791) wrote, “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” His point was that the reform process recognizes institutions’ need for innovation, but such innovations improve institutions only if they uphold the institutions’ purposes. Strong ties to the past are good when anchoring policy decisions, but they must serve the organizational mission. When they do not do that, leaders must help followers disconnect from former ways of operating. As confusion can overtake and divide followers who may wonder whether leaders are hijacking the organization, leaders must be careful. Consider the strife caused by differences in American churches undergoing changes in worship styles. Research shows that shared resolve to change across diverse groups is yoked to successful change implementation. Thus, the more readily the status quo can be questioned by followers, the sooner the organization can adapt to present circumstances.
In 1949, the infamous Mann Gulch fire took the lives of thirteen smokejumpers. The wildfire was unassuming, until drastic changes in the environment caused it to erupt into an inferno of death. Because of their quick-thinking, three men survived. Organizational leaders must recognize the level of immediacy required not only to motivate change, but also understand and effectively communicate the threshold after which change will no longer be possible without grave consequences (cost-prohibitive, lost market share, lost talent, agreement deadlines, etc.).
5. Strong leadership
Strong leaders effectively motivate followers to change given the particulars of a situation. Such leaders often have know-how related to the change event and are respected by the followers involved in it. They are crucial for gaining followers’ support and preference, meaning that followers give such leaders the benefit of the doubt when judging whether the leaders actually considered followers’ good before recommending and guiding change.
6. Key follower sponsorship
Depending on the size of your organization, the primary leader may need to secure the support of and then charge certain followers to become secondary leaders. The further removed the primary leader is from those immediately involved in the required changes, the more important it becomes to have leaders in closer proximity also actively supporting change. Distance creates uncertainty, which dissolves trust – a key resource leveraged by successful leaders. Leaders closer to the action should be better equipped to secure the necessary commitment. But, such leaders must have strong rapport with their followers, or their involvement will be counterproductive.
7. Clear implementation plan
If followers are persuaded but provided with no details of who is responsible for what tasks and outcomes, when such will take place, and how the effort should proceed, along with clearly defined lines of communication for decision-making and mechanisms for follower-feedback and readjustments midcourse, then they will likely become anxious, disengaged, and frustrated. The best plans generate follower ownership and elicit immediate action, having been co-developed with followers’ input from the beginning.
8. Enabled followers
Smooth change occurs when followers have power commensurate with their responsibility. Have you ever been tasked with a responsibility for which you were not equipped? Such inadequate empowerment results in follower stress. In the United States, stress leads to losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Leaders, therefore, need to support and champion their followers, providing them with the resources and organizational support to achieve reasonable outcomes. It is an unfair – and likely to be opposed – change effort which expects from followers what they are incapable of providing (not having access to reasonable resources, required authorizations, vital information, key contacts, etc.). Early adopters, properly empowered, can prove decisive as to whether change sticks or slips.
9. Communication, collaboration, and credibility
Socrates’ statement, “Speak, that I may know thee,” illustrates the important role of communication in manifesting intent. Followers look to leaders for direction and encouragement. Leaders must honor this relationship where they are yielded influence by providing reliability and demonstrating integrity in how they manage the change process – telling the truth even when it means conveying uncertainty as well as less-than-flattering news about the change process proceedings. Collaborating with key followers in communication efforts will help the truth permeate follower constituencies so that rumors are ineffective. Additionally, it will improve trust between followers and top leaders, as followers will hear confirming information from the secondary leaders. Leaders should embrace dialogue, especially when it permits them the opportunity to strengthen followers’ clarity about the organization’s mission.
By highlighting successes along the way in the change process, leaders can help cement positive attitudes about the change in followers’ minds. Some followers may be skeptical, but they will eventually support the change if they continually see their peers and leaders rewarded (financially, socially, emotionally, etc.) for positive engagement. Since development entails the idea of continuousness, reinforcement should not focus on the change specifics; rather, it should promote the culture recognizing the need for change and proactively engaging to strengthen the organization given environmental particulars.
Ultimately, leaders must think through their organization’s situation with humility, being open to correction and advice. In doing so, they will earn their followers’ trust and mitigate many concerns about what change means for their futures.
The change-management approach described above is akin to culture-management. The ability to successfully change an organization for greater effectiveness depends on the organization’s ethos – the thinking patterns of its people. Consider this: research shows the failure of change leaders to address this critical concern is listed as a major reason why 80% of corporate mergers and acquisitions fail. The unasked questions driving success or failure in change efforts are: Can we adapt, improve, innovate, and lead? If not, can we become an organization that does? The ten ingredients provided acknowledge this organizational need for leaders and followers who yoke themselves to the future, understanding the times and honoring the past by properly addressing present and future circumstances. In so doing, they create more collaborative environments where change processes produce fruit rather than thorns.
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About the author:
David Stehlik is an independent strategy consultant and in Regent University’s doctoral program in strategic leadership. He received his B.A. from Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, MI and MBA from the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, IN.
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Removing the Bitter Taste of Change-10 Ingredients for Organizational Transformation You Can Stomach
If you monitored the United States’ presidential election process or the corporate woes of Nokia and Research in Motion as they try to recover what were formerly massive stakes in the cellular phone market, then you realize that worthwhile change, even when planned, is neither simple nor easy; it is complex and difficult. Organizations struggling most with change, therefore, seemDavid Stehlik Articles
Think about Oz and the love you may have for the 1939 movie or the 1900 book portraying the story of the Wizard of Oz. Or, you may have read one or more of the thirteen Oz sequels written by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919). But, few realize that there are a set of lessons for developing leadership abilities based on the story’s content and the history, life, and times of the story’s creative and entrepreneurial author—a man who served in roles as actor, breeder of rare chickens, director, gardener, lyricist, merchant, movie producer, philatelist, photographer, playwright, printer and newspaper publisher, salesman, theater manager, window dresser, and, of course, celebrated author. Enter The Way of Oz: A Guide for Wisdom, Heart, and Courage and its roadmap for leadership development and travels down the yellow brick road of life.
Now, imagine the characters of Oz bearing special symbolism for learning, loving, serving, focusing on the future, and humility. You might imagine the associations: the Scarecrow for wisdom and learning, the Tin Woodman for heart or loving, the Cowardly Lion for courage and service, Dorothy for leadership and a focus on the future, and the Wizard for humility and related virtues. For the purposes of this short essay let’s focus on Dorothy and her character as a metaphor for a future focus and leadership. At end we’ll see how a focus on the future and leadership are tied inextricably to the characteristics imbedded of the other major players of the Wizard of Oz masterpiece.
Dorothy in The Way of Oz is the leadership person—the character with a focus on the future—the character who brings out the best in others through understanding, heart and her own courage—all cast in a spirit of kindness and service. And, with Dorothy’s savvy about personal and institutional planning, diversity, sustainability, scientific and political understanding, and personal responsibility—she is a character who makes significant differences in the lives of others—men, women and creatures alike! Dorothy in The Way of Oz also knows how to detect and deter life’s wicked witches, both of the internal (e.g., self-doubt, imposter syndrome) and external (e.g., aggressive, manipulative and envious co-workers, friends or family members) varieties.
Through The Way of Oz, we learn about Dorothy’s approach to personal planning, involving integrated learning and scholarship, personal environmental scanning, selective volunteerism—all while drawing on the wisdom of teachers and mentors, and connecting learning and wisdom through caring and service.
The 21st Century Dorothy also understands institutional strategic planning and its components: vision, mission, environmental context, goals and objectives (directed through implementation strategies and articulated challenges), group oversight and shared understanding, and benchmarking integrated with periodic reporting and results-driven revisions of plans.
In The Way of Oz, Dorothy accentuates the best in colleagues and institutions through her understanding of the mosaic model of diversity and the importance of science and political insight for developing policy and actions related to sustainability. She is also wise in her comprehension of secular democracies and their power to serve our worldwide community.
On the “personal responsibility front,” Dorothy of The Way of Oz is empowered by determination, persistence, priority consciousness, critical thinking, and complex reasoning—all with ethics in the lead. She is also able to manage life’s time—systematically and sensibly.
Our modern Dorothy’s focus on the future is powerful because it is cast through an archetypal story written by a man who, despite his foibles and frailties, knew how to relate to others in unique ways. In other words, Frank Baum made a difference and The Way of Oz can make a difference in many peoples’ lives—particularly in the area of leadership development.
Thus, the Way of Oz approach to leading, involving personal planning, integrated learning and scholarship, personal environmental scanning, and selective volunteerism, fortified by organizational strategic planning, an understanding of diversity, science and political insight to guide decisions about sustainability, and personal responsibility—all with ethics in lead—prepares one for a life of personal and professional fulfillment. These elements of the Way of Oz and the new book of the same name—enriched by the creative graphics of Dusty Higgins and video content portraying leadership roles of students, faculty, and staff in universities as one segment of society—can make a significant difference in lives of seekers and future leaders of our world community. Many have found—in these thoughts—the true magic of The Way of Oz. Consider joining us!
Below are the main characters in The Way of Oz as conceived by Dusty Higgins. See if you can identify them all?
About the author:
Robert V. Smith serves as Provost and Senior Vice President at Texas Tech University (TTU). He has oversight responsibility for fourteen colleges and schools, along with the libraries and several other academically related units and programs.
He is the author or co-author of more than 320 articles and nine books. The Way of Oz: A Guide to Wisdom, Heart, and Courage (Texas Tech University Press, 2012) is available in hard cover, paperback, and electronic versions in all electronic formats. You can find out more about Robert Smith and his book at http://www.thewayofoz.com/index.htm
This material is copyright protected. No part of this document may be reproduced, in any form or by any means without permission from weLEAD Incorporated. Copyright waiver may be acquired from the weLEAD website.
Think about Oz and the love you may have for the 1939 movie or the 1900 book portraying the story of the Wizard of Oz. Or, you may have read one or more of the thirteen Oz sequels written by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919). But, few realize that there are a set of lessons for developing leadership abilities based on the story’s content and the history, life, and times of the story’s creativeRobert V. Smith Articles
What if servant leadership had not been initially labeled servant leadership? How many times has this been pondered as this value-laden leadership concept evolved? And why does the name itself present an impediment for implementation, empirical researching, and overall comprehension? Could we not argue that the oxymoronic implication the terminology suggests has hindered the spirited and necessary debate within leadership, management and organizational behavioral circles, both academic and anecdotal, to nearly subjugate this important leadership theory to others such as transformational or authentic leadership?
This brief essay is not intended to offer substantiated results of exhaustive research that are based on testing terminologies and definitions in an effort to “poll”, if you will, labels that might be less controversial. But when most – at least in my experience – conversations about servant leadership begin with an obligatory and extensive discussion on the terminology itself rather than on the characteristics of the theory, it causes me to wonder what if our beloved founder, Mr. Greenleaf, had selected another term. Of course one could make the argument that a conversation on the definition of the term aids the overall explanation of the theory. But I will leave that debate for another day.
So what is it specifically about the term servant leadership that creates a barrier to further understanding? I believe that the challenges are primarily three-fold: the contradiction inherent in the term, the religious connotations that are implied and the lack of operational clarity offered by the theory’s title. I offer the suggestion that a slight adjustment to the theory terminology e.g. the name of it could open the door to further acceptance within the wider community.
Servant and its entomological cousin, service, by its very definition imply assuming an inferior position to a master or leader. Those who are either in positions of leadership or those who aggressively seek these offices (which causes its own set of servant leadership implementation issues) are immediately disengaged when they encounter passive terminology. How can one effectively and efficiently lead while taking an inferior posture. Moving past this initial barrier may be accomplished if the individual is able to transform servant into supporting or, better yet, into stewardship rather than focusing on the more stereotypical passive role of a servant.
Issues of faith are complicated within a standard corporate environment. Not only does their exist an intangible quality to one’s belief system that varies greatly across the world but also there are human resource and legal implications that have to be seriously considered which makes the discussion of religion taboo within most situations. The frequent use of the term servant within religious circles as well as the well-used example of Jesus Christ as the pinnacle of servant leadership has given the impression to many that servant leadership is strictly a faith based approach to leadership and may work in those arenas but not in a serious business environment.
Compounding this issue is the servant leadership community itself. There have been many academic programs that have emerged that teach servant leadership and have attempted to define the theory for future research. Many of these “centers” have emerged at faith-based institutions that teach the subject within a biblical context. Certainly there are moral parallels within servant leadership that align well with religious instructions but until the servant leadership community matures past “do these things because they are the right thing to do” and into demonstrating compelling, measurable increases in output; the theory will continue to remain primarily anecdotal.
Finally, the term does not provide implicit instructions on how to implement the style. Authentic leadership means to lead authentically. Transformational leadership means to lead by transforming. When our hypothetical corporate leader stumbles across servant leadership, although those of us within the subculture know that it means to lead by serving, to the CEO this immediately brings up connotations of inferiority which brings us back to square one of this essay. What if servant leadership was not called servant leadership?
I ask this question merely to generate conversation on a clear hindrance to the development of this wonderful leadership concept. Is it possible to alter the labeling terminology to open up the concept to further research or is the fact that the term “servant” being in the definition give the theory strength and separation from other value-laden leadership approaches? What other terms could be applied to allow the theory to gain more widespread recognition?
About the author:
JJ Musgrove is currently the Director of Donor Services, Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley in Columbus, Georgia. He joined the community foundation’s staff in April of 2011 after serving for six and a half years as the executive director of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in the same city. He has a bachelor of arts in theatre from Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, and a masters of arts in theatre from the University of Central Missouri. He is currently enrolled in the masters of organizational leadership, servant leadership track at Columbus State University. He is a featured speaker on arts administration, nonprofit leadership and fundraising, and value-laden leadership theories. He is a member of the Greenleaf Center on servant leadership and serves on the panels of the Columbus Cultural Arts Alliance and the Georgia Council for the Arts.
This material is copyright protected. No part of this document may be reproduced, in any form or by any means without permission from weLEAD Incorporated. Copyright waiver may be acquired from the weLEAD website.
What if servant leadership had not been initially labeled servant leadership? How many times has this been pondered as this value-laden leadership concept evolved? And why does the name itself present an impediment for implementation, empirical researching, and overall comprehension? Could we not argue that the oxymoronic implication the terminology suggests has hindered the spirJJ Musgrove Articles
One of the glaring flaws in the Oliver Stone movie, Alexander, was the omission of any reference to young Alexander and the Gordian Knot. For those not familiar with this classical episode in the legend of Alexander the Great, there existed in ancient Greece an immense tangle of tightly bound cord known as the Gordian Knot. The legend of the knot prophesized that whoever could unloosen the knot would unite Greece and rule all of Asia. Learning of the prophecy, young Alexander, the Macedonian prince, came to the site, approached the knot, unsheathed his sword and proceeded to hack it open.
(For a fuller description of the tale of Alexander and the Gordian Knot, go to:
By this act Alexander dramatically demonstrated a leadership trait that is principle-based and powerful. An underlying trait of iconoclastic leadership is that leaders not only think out of the box, but also act out of the box. They are liberated from the constraints of the normative paradigms of their time. Thus liberated, they are free to resolve problems that would remain unresolved by anyone residing within the prevailing paradigms of their culture, world-view, ideology, or dogma. The effects of the iconoclast tend to shock and upset, but their impact on moving historical process forward is consistent and unmistakable.
Max Weber, a seminal figure in modern sociology who also wrote authoritatively on history and economics, employed the concept of “pure” or “ideal” types to compare and contrast institutional types and behavioral traits. One can consider the iconoclastic leader as a Weberian “pure type” in dialectic opposition to the apologist, or caretaker, whose focus is on justifying the status quo. Pure iconoclasts, in fact, rarely become leaders. They are, by their nature, at war with the prevailing powers that be, and thus generally are dismissed as crackpots at best and dangerous subversives (which they are) at worst. Their routes to leadership are usually confined to a combination of charisma and inheritance of status (as with Alexander), or charisma coinciding with a catastrophic crisis of the prevailing paradigm.
It is said that the Austrians are a clever people for they have convinced the world that Hitler was German and that Beethoven was Austrian. This observation can be expanded to iconoclastic leaders in general. They enter history from the outside; from the margins of the dominant culture. Consider that Alexander was a Macedonian and not a Greek, that Genghis Khan was a Mongol and not Chinese, that Napoleon was Corsican and not French (he didn’t even speak French until age twelve), and that Stalin was a Georgian and not Russian. Thinking and acting outside the box is expedited when one’s origins are also outside the box.
What might also be clear from the aforementioned list is that iconoclastic leaders aren’t “nice” people. They impose transformation by sheer power of will. They are remembered more for their wars than for their legacies as change agents. They are subject to the tragic dynamic expressed in the adage that “revolutions eat their own children.” This might lead one to write off the iconoclast as a dangerous and unstable leadership type, until one considers that our own founding fathers were iconoclasts. If they were only out to free America from British rule they would have rebelled and our fight with the British would have been known merely as a war for independence. Ours was truly an American Revolution, spearheaded by the most iconoclastic of the revolutionaries, Thomas Paine (an immigrant from Scotland and militantly atheist). His early and vociferous advocacy of a vision of a new nation was articulated in Common Sense and other writings that shifted the entire debate over the colonies’ status from petition and protest, to independence and revolution. It was then left to other more moderate iconoclasts, like Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison and Jay to complete the dialectical process and synthesize a new nation. The firebrand Thomas Paine was eventually marginalized by the nation-builders, and would later turn up in France to help drive their revolution, nearly losing his life to the guillotine in the process.
While the iconoclastic leader is toxic to the prevailing organizational or social order, an iconoclastic strain in one’s temperament portfolio can make for an effective change agent. To invoke a Darwinian metaphor, they are the mutant genes that occasionally produce new and more viable species. The iconoclast is better at envisioning and commanding than in consolidating and governing. Thus the dialectical tension persists between the revolutionary iconoclast, and the caretaker bureaucrat (bureaucracy being the “routinization of charisma” according to Weber). Like Moses, the iconoclast can take a people to the Promised Land, but they can’t seem to enter it themselves.
About the author:
Dr. Timothy Dolan is the former Director of the Master in Management Program at Southern Oregon University; the first integrated interdisciplinary graduate management program offered by a regional institution of higher learning in the nation. He received both his MA and Ph.D. in Political Science (International Relations Methodology and Public Policy/Futures Studies) from the University of Hawaii. His BA is from San Diego State University in Political Science. Dr. Dolan is also a certified facilitator for the FranklinCovey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People seminar. He is now an entrepreneur developing a line of exoskeletalwear that he hopes to license to a major sports apparel manufacturer.
*Image courtesy of Grant Cockrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One of the glaring flaws in the Oliver Stone movie, Alexander, was the omission of any reference to young Alexander and the Gordian Knot. For those not familiar with this classical episode in the legend of Alexander the Great, there existed in ancient Greece an immense tangle of tightly bound cord known as the Gordian Knot. The legend of the knot prophesized that whoever could unloosen the knotDr. Timothy Dolan Articles
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